No more IPC, CrPC: New criminal laws come into effect in India

The first FIR under the new laws was registered on Monday at Delhi's Kamla Market Police Station.
No more IPC, CrPC: New criminal laws come into effect in India
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The three new criminal laws – the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam will replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 effective Monday, July 1. Together, these three new laws, which were passed in parliament in December 2023, will govern India's criminal justice system, defining penal offences, prescribing processes for investigation and evidence gathering, and governing court trial procedures.

The first FIR under the new laws was registered on Monday at Delhi's Kamla Market Police Station. The case was filed against a street vendor under Section 285 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita for obstructing a footover bridge at the New Delhi Railway Station.

When tabling the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, as a replacement for the CrPC, Home Minister Amit Shah said that the new laws aim to eliminate the colonial legacy and introduce an Indianized legal framework suitable for modern India. However, the consultation process during the pandemic and the laws' hasty passage through Parliament in December via voice vote, while many Opposition MPs were under suspension, have raised concerns.

Legal experts note that while the new laws make significant changes, they do not represent a complete overhaul. They argue that many provisions from the old laws have been retained with different numbering and labelling. This could cause hardship among police, lawyers, and judges who must adapt to the new sequence of familiar provisions. Additionally, the old laws will still apply to cases and offences committed before July 1, 2024, necessitating the simultaneous application of parallel legal systems, which may lead to confusion and errors.

The BNS introduces several new crimes, including Clause 69, which penalises sexual intercourse achieved through deceitful means. This provision includes false promises of marriage or employment, and carries a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine. Critics fear this could criminalise consensual relationships and support the bogus “love jihad” narrative.

The exclusion of section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises non-consensual sex between adults of all genders and orientations, as well as sexual offences against animals, from the BNS, has also raised concerns. Senior lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover pointed out that by the deletion of Section 377, there will be a gap in the law in so far as legal protection for adult males and trans persons against sexual violence is concerned. 

Lawyer and rights activist Aravind Narrain said that the new Bill need not retain Section 377, but that a new provision must be introduced as part of the laws on rape to criminalise sexual offences against men and transgender individuals. 

As per reports, till BNS gets a new section on sexual crimes against men and transgender persons, police officials have been asked to invoke allied charges such as wrongful confinement and physical hurt, if they receive complaints. 

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) extends police custody detention from 15 days to up to 90 days, raising concerns about personal liberty. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have objected to the titles of the new laws, citing Article 348 of the Constitution, which mandates that legislation introduced in Parliament must be in English. Karnataka has also raised concerns about provisions allowing police officers 14 days for preliminary investigation before registering an FIR and the exclusion of Section 377 of the IPC, currently used in cases of sexual assault on men.

The new codes also introduce community service as punishment for petty offences, the use of electronic and digital records as evidence, electronic summons, mandatory videography of crime scenes, and a new chapter on crimes against women and children. The laws provide a clear definition of terrorism, abolish sedition as a crime, and introduce a new section titled "offences against the state." This section, encompassing acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, and endangering sovereignty or unity, is seen by some activists and experts as more stringent than the existing sedition law.

On June 21, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged the Prime Minister to postpone their implementation for now. In her letter to PM Modi, the West Bengal CM said that the preparatory work for smooth transition to the new system is far from over. “…practically, the request for postponement stems from a pragmatic assessment of the challenges and preparatory work required for smooth transition, particularly concerning the training programme of law enforcement personnel and Judicial Officers,” the letter from the Chief Minister read.

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